Students at Waupaca Learning Center have a personal connection to this year’s Jump Rope For Heart and Hoops For Heart.
When they participate in the American Heart Association’s annual program on Feb. 12 and 13, they will do so in honor of Lillie and Jennie Peterson.
Lillie is a third-grade student at the school, and her mother, Jennie, is a 4K teacher there.
Both of them had heart issues.
Lillie had open heart surgery when she was 7 months old, and Jennie had a heart attack at age 50.
The mother and daughter are sharing their stories to encourage others to take care of their own hearts and to raise money for the American Heart Association.
“I hope our school raises a ton of money,” said Jennie.
“This is the first time in this building that we are going to do it in honor of someone,” said Lisa Ash, a physical education teacher at WLC.
Plans were under way for the students to jump rope and shoot basketballs in honor of Lillie when Jennie had a heart attack.
Ash said Jennie jumped on board when asked if the students could also honor her.
Lillie’s heart surgery took place not quite nine years ago, and Jennie’s heart attack happened on Jan. 1.
“My heart was sick. It had a hole in it,” Lillie said.
After Lillie’s birth, Jennie and her husband, Cory, found out their daughter has Down Syndrome.
With heart issues common for children who have Down Syndrome, Lillie had an echocardiogram when she was 5 days old and received a diagnosis of heart disease.
Doctors wanted her to weigh 10 pounds before having open heart surgery, and Lillie reached that weight when she was 7 months old.
On March 29, 2006, Lillie had open heart surgery at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, in Milwaukee.
“Every year, she goes in for a check,” Jennie said. “Every year is an emotional visit.”
Lillie is doing great and may need to have heart surgery again in the future, Jennie said.
Ash said Lillie works hard in physical education class.
“Why do we have to exercise?” Jennie asked her daughter.
“To get your heart healthy,” Lillie responded, before saying that eating food which is good for her, such as fruits and vegetables, is also important, as well as getting plenty of rest.
Those are messages all the students at WLC are receiving as part of this annual American Heart Association fundraiser.
The association’s message to students is to exercise, eat healthy and never smoke. Ash said the program aligns with the school’s physical education standards.
“That’s a huge reason why we do the program,” Ash said. “And to help others is awesome.”
Jennie said her own exercise schedule had been sporadic.
Eating healthy, getting enough rest and exercising are now her goals, too.
When she woke up on Jan. 1, she felt fine.
“I had breakfast with Lillie. Cory had gone fishing,” she said. “I started to feel sick, like I was getting the flu.”
Jennie vomited, had cold sweats and felt exhausted.
She fell asleep for about 10 minutes.
“I got up. Both of my arms hurt,” she said. “I was hugging myself, like I was in pain.”
Jennie called Cory.
With Cory an hour from home, she then called her sister-in-law, saying she felt ill.
Her sister-in-law called Riverside Medical Center and took Jennie there.
A family member stayed with Lillie.
At the hospital, Jennie’s sister-in-law said to a nurse, “I think she’s having a heart attack.”
In the ER, medical staff followed protocols and prepped Jennie for a flight by helicopter from RMC to Appleton Medical Center.
“Right off the helicopter, I went right into the cath lab,” Jennie said. “I was so scared. I didn’t know what was going on. I had blockage. They tried to put a stent in, but it was too small.”
Because they could not stent it, “she just had to have the attack with medicine, and they monitored it,” Cory said.
He said it took Jennie 24 hours to go through that process. Then, they weaned her off the medication.
“They said they couldn’t find any tissue damage,” Cory said.
Jennie said, “They kept asking me about time. Because I got care right away, it prevents having heart damage.”
She left the hospital on Jan. 4 and was off of work for two weeks.
Now, Jennie goes to cardiac rehab three times a week at RMC.
There is some history of heart issues in her family.
Her mother has high blood pressure and heart disease.
Jennie had borderline high blood pressure.
“It’s been such a great learning experience for the kids this year, having them put a face as to why we’re doing it,” Ash said of this year’s Jump Rope For Heart and Hoops For Heart.
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States, she said.
February is American Heart Month, and Friday, Feb. 6, is Go Red for Women Day, a national campaign to raise awareness about women and heart disease.
On Feb. 12 and 13, stations will be set up in WLC’s gym. Students may participate in Jump Rope For Heart, Hoops for Heart or both during their physical education class.
Those who want to be part of WLC’s fundraising effort may drop off donations, written to the American Heart Association, at Waupaca Learning Center or mail them to the school at 1515 Shoemaker Road, Waupaca, WI 54981.
Last year, students at WLC raised more than $10,000 for the American Heart Association, the school’s highest amount to date for the event.
“People are so generous in this community when it comes to this. It’s wonderful to support the community and others,” Ash said.